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SDLP 'not bounced' on welfare bill


SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has criticised the DUP over the welfare bill

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has criticised the DUP over the welfare bill

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has criticised the DUP over the welfare bill

The SDLP will not be "bounced" into meeting an artificial deadline for agreement on welfare reform, its leader has claimed.

Alasdair McDonnell said the party planned to back moves to block the controversial bill when it is debated at Stormont next week.

He said: "There needs to be a mature negotiation: DUP 'stand and deliver' politics is ill judged and ill timed."

The decision means the ongoing crisis at the power-sharing administration has deepened even further.

Dr McDonnell added: "What is happening now is the parties here are faced with an artificial deadline and a crisis that could and should be averted.

"We will not walk away from the negotiating table. We will not be bounced by the DUP deadline. They should recognise the need for mature negotiations not short term tactics."

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey is expected to bring the contentious Welfare Reform Bill to the floor of the Assembly on Tuesday, along with a new implementation plan.

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However, it is unlikely to pass.

Despite agreeing to introduce the changes in December's Stormont House political agreement, Sinn Fein reneged on the deal amid concerns that the executive-funded top-up measures to support claimants losing out were not as comprehensive as they had envisaged.

Unionists have repeatedly warned that the Executive is facing financial meltdown if the benefits system reforms are not implemented.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has also said he would seek a vote on handing welfare powers back to London to prevent a total collapse of the power-sharing administration.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy urged the DUP to think again.

He said: "We welcome the position of the SDLP in supporting a petition of concern against the Welfare Bill being brought to the Assembly on Tuesday.

"I am calling on the DUP to withdraw the bill and re-engage with the other Executive parties in negotiations to achieve welfare protections agreed at Stormont House for children with disabilities, adults with severe learning disabilities, the long term sick and large families."

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